History Carved in Stone: Beelitz-Heilstätten

Abandoned buildings sometimes merely look creepy, when, in fact, they once housed some boring factory, or mundane industrial process. However, the history of this particular abandoned complex lives up to its dark visage. Rusty beds, empty corridors with walls covered in graffiti and crumbling paint is what remains of the giant. A remarkable place, where the trees not only grow around the deserted buildings, but also on top of the roofs.

The Beelitz Heilstätten complex (“Heilstätten” translates roughly as “a place of healing”) was constructed in 1898 and designed by architect Heino Schmieden. Originally, it was built as a sanatorium for lung diseases to address the growing epidemic of tuberculosis in the rapidly expanding city of Berlin. It was meant to serve as a refuge for the workers who had become ill due to the unhealthy living- and working conditions of the time.

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Today, we can cure TB relatively easy, with little more than antibiotics, but the treatment way back when was a little different, and perhaps not entirely efficient: fresh air and bedrest, all the while boosting the patients’ health with an appropriately balanced diet. It’s easy to see why the Beelitzer forest, located just a short distance from the German capital, was considered suitable for a sanatorium, as the area enjoyed lots of fresh air and beautiful scenery.

However, the time used for its intended purpose was extremely short, amounting to just 16 years. Some parts of the massive complex were converted by the German Imperial Army into a military hospital during World War I. The first unfortunate victims of the new weapon technology of the day, machine guns and mustard gas, were treated here.

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At the south eastern part of the Beelitz site you can find one of the most interesting and visually appealing of the Hospital buildings, Zentral Badehaus the Central Bath House. Whilst one of the iconic features of this building is the stunning huge domed room with the sunken T shaped bath, this unaltered example of the original architecture is just one of the many rooms which contain amazing detail retained from the initial build…

 

The post-war chaos of the early 1920s saw the expansion of the sanatorium, to house the thousands of ill and recovering that could be there at any one time. The 60-building complex did not only have the treatment facilities, but turned into a little village of itself, complete with a butcher’s shop, a post office, a restaurant, a bakery, and it even had its own power station, apparently effective enough to render the entire compound snow free during the winters.

During the 1930s, the sanatorium continued to flourish, although war was looming on the horizon. It was requisitioned once again, and became a military hospital for the duration of World War II, with several of its buildings destroyed by the Allied bombing. In 1945, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, the German nation was divided in two, and the hospital was suddenly located in East Germany. At this point in history, the USSR took control of the facility, turning it into a Soviet military hospital. Even after the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, the Soviet Army remained in control of the hospital for some time.

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When the Russian Red Army left the premises in 1995, after an almost 50-years occupation, it attracted people exploring the vast area of deteriorating buildings in the midst of a seemingly endless forest. Not everyone came with the best of intentions, and a lot of the fittings were vandalized, and paraphernalia left behind by the Russian army were stolen. The majority of the buildings have remained empty ever since, half boarded up and, slowly but relentlessly, slipping in to deterioration. Whatever ghosts roam Beelitz will probably be left to their own devices, save for the intrusion of the occasional urban explorer.

Its “ghost town” air has appealed to more than just the curious, and it has been used as a set for the Oscar winning movie, The Pianist, the 2008 film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise, as well as Rammstein’s Mein Herz Brennt videos. The plural of the latter is intentional. Rammstein made two videos for two different versions of the same song. The first one, dubbed “The Piano Version”, was filmed in its entirety in the Men’s Sanatorium’s bath house at Beelitz Heilstätten, and directed by Zoran Bihac.

By Maya Aster
Photos: Project Mayhem

Complete list of references could be obtained from Rammstein Press

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